Earlier this year Startel held the 2022 Startel National Users Groups Conference and it was an inspiring event. Users were able to network, share ideas and learn new techniques. We also presented the 2022 Allen Kalik Award! This years winner was Alan Hartman. We were able to interview Alan and get a better idea of what it is like to be a pioneer of the industry! Below are Alan’s answers to our questions.
How did you get you start in the industry?
Alan’s Response: “Readers digest version: Lost job due to early 80’s recession, decided to take a chance on consulting instead of gainful employment. Met some TAS folks, convinced them I could write some billing software while I was doing enough general consulting work to keep food on the table. Full story would require at least a couple of single malt scotches.”
How did you get involved with Allen Kalik and PTD?
Alan’s Response: “Allen Kalik was one of my early customers, and the story of how he became a customer is one I’ve retold many times. I got a call from him one day, and the dialog went something like this:
AK: I need to buy your billing program.
AH: OK, I could set up a time next week to give you a demonstration.
AK: No, you don’t understand. I need to buy your billing program now. And I need you to sell me a computer too.
AH: Well, you really should take a look at it first, to be suer it does everything you need it to do.
AK: No, I’ve already talked to Arthur Goodman (an even earlier customer in NYC and an industry icon), and he said I should buy your program.
AH: Well OK then, but I still need to order a computer for you, I don’t have any in stock right now.
AK: You must have something in your office I could use. I’m desperate, my billing computer died and I’m already late getting my bills out.
AH: The only computer I have in my office is my bookkeeper’s computer.
When my bookkeeper got to the office the next morning, she said “Where’s my computer?”. The rest is history.”
Why is being bestowed the Allen Kalik Award meaningful to you?
Alan’s Response: “Allen was a customer first, but he quickly became a friend and a mentor. He was always coming up with ideas for how to make my products better. At the same time, he respected my technical advice offered for his own business. Eventually Professional Inbound acquired Tele-Data Systems, and we became business partners. It was gratifying to be recognized by the PIN members for the contributions I’ve made to the PTD products, and for the influence I’ve been able to exert guiding PInnacle features (i.e., Allen Kalik’s ideas) into CMC.”
Tell us about some of your favorite memories of people you have worked with or for?
Alan’s Response: “I’ve been very fortunate to have been mentored by some incredible people, including the founders of many TAS businesses, as well as the leadership of vendors that serve the industry. Many of my early customers were enormously helpful by providing recommendations. Jim Marchbank has told the story of an FMDS he effectively sold. One of his close friends, was considering an FMDS purchase, but had some reservations. Jim was helping him out with a problem with his TAS gear one evening (calling from a roadside phone booth, after having been paged), and after the technical problem was worked out, the question of FMDS came up. Jim’s response was: “Just buy it. Send Alan a check first thing in the morning, you won’t regret it.” That sort of memory is priceless.”
What if anything would you have done differently in regard to your path and career?
Alan’s Response: “That’s a tough question. It would be easy to identify projects I worked on that were never commercially successful. But you can’t second guess the decision to give it a try — after all, you can’t know with absolute certainty whether a new product will be successful until it’s built and customers purchase it. Paraphrasing Thomas Edison, there’s a tremendous amount of experience to be gained when you build something that doesn’t succeed. I do wish I had pursued some general business courses while I was still in school, that might have made running my business easier.”
Describe your type of leadership? Who are your mentors and guides?
Alan’s Response: “I lead by example, stressing honesty, integrity, professionalism and putting in an honest day’s work. I don’t “boss”, I guide, I teach. I let people make mistakes because mistakes are the best way to learn. I’ve had a few long-term mentors. Anthony Greenfield, Jim Marchbank, Allen Kalik, Wayne Scaggs to name just a few. Each brought something a little different to the table: knowledge of the industry, business connections, technical ingenuity, and good old fashioned common sense.”
When did you know that the call center industry is where you belong?
Alan’s Response: “I’m still thinking about some alternatives that don’t require 24x7x365 support. 😉 This may be dissonant messaging, but the main reason I’ve put nearly 4 decades into this industry has more to do with my desire to constantly improve my products. B/CS was first installed in 1983, was refined, updated, upgraded, etc. for 15+ years, and only retired within the last 2 years – that’s a run of 37 years. FMDS was first installed in 1991, and followed a similar trajectory. TBS was first installed in 1998 and is still going strong. There’s really no consideration given to “belonging” to an industry when you’re committed to making your creations better. I suppose another factor is that over those 4 decades I’ve formed some strong bonds with the businesses I’ve served. It’s really those relationships that bond me to the industry. And there’s also the fact that my father worked for New Jersey Bell for 47 years, and I put in a couple of summers part-time work for them myself. So telephones are in my genes.”
If you were not in your current field what would you be doing as a job?
Alan’s Response: “If I wasn’t working in the Call Center industry, I’d probably be involved with some other vertical market developing software products for that industry. In prior jobs I was involved in Sales Engineering for computer suppliers, and we were always encountering small businesses performing oddball services, like renting TVs to hospital patients, or keeping the books for trade unions. I likely would have hooked up with one of those businesses serving niche industries.”
Tell us about who you are outside of the office? Hobbies, Interests & Family?
Alan’s Response: “Photography, bicycling, music (piano at a mediocre level😊), hiking, Covered Bridges, driving / exploring back roads in the middle of nowhere – often because that’s where covered bridges are located, ice hockey (spectator only!).”
What do you think are the most significant milestones of the call center industry?
Alan’s Response: “There have been several threats to the TAS industry (as opposed to the more general “call center” industry) over the decades: answering machines, voice mail machines, alpha paging, cell phones, smart phones. Doomsayers predicted each of these technologies would be the death of TAS . But the smart players figured out ways to embrace those technologies and prosper by working with them. I’d like to think that automatic delivery of messages to fax machines was a milestone too.”
Besides what their services are what should call center owners be looking for in a company to partner with?
Alan’s Response: “Support: Is the company easy to work with when you need support? Can you reach knowledgeable people quickly when there are problems? Are the products & services in widespread use to facilitate networking with other users? Depth: does the organization have redundancy of staff should a key employee leave or become disabled. Industry Experience: has the company been around long enough to accumulate deep understanding of their customers needs.”
Alan Hartmann is the Director of Software Development at Starteljoined Professional Teledata (PTD) in 1997, following the merger of Tele-Data Systems and Professional Inbound, and served as Vice President of the company until the merger with Startel in September 2015. As the Director of Software Development for PTD, Alan draws upon his 40+ years of software engineering experience and 33 years of contact center and business management experience to oversee all current and future product development of the PTD product line. Startel would like to thank Alan for taking the time to answer these questions.
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